Hundreds of white supremacists converged in central Tennessee on Saturday to hold two “White Lives Matter” rallies to express their xenophobic fears of immigrants and refugees, their anger over the nonexistent oppression of white people, and their pride in a racist past given renewed life thanks to the Trump administration.
The first rally kicked off mid–morning in Shelbyville, a town of about 20,000 residents just south of Nashville. A second demonstration will be held in the early afternoon in Murfreesboro, about 26 miles north of Shelbyville.
Surrounded by a heavy police presence, white supremacist demonstrators and anti–racist counterprotesters battled each other over loudspeakers. Chants of “white lives matter” were met with shouts of “Cowards!” and “No hate, no fear, everybody’s welcome here!”
At one point, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was broadcast over a loudspeaker, drowning out most other noise. When the speech was over, a demonstrator resumed shouting, “Journalist scum, you’re time has come!” That, in turn, was answered by, “¡Viva los inmigrantes!” (“Long live immigrants!”)
And also, “Can’t build a wall, hands too small...”
Some of the white supremacists were carrying homemade shields, as they did at the violent protests in Charlottesville, VA, on Aug. 12, which ended with an attack that killed counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer and injured many others. Others at this Saturday’s rallies sported Confederate flags and caps.
The two White Lives Matter rallies were co–organized by the League of the South, a group founded in 1994 that “seeks the survival, well being, and independence of the Southern people,” according to its website. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designated the organization, whose acronym is “LOS,” as a hate group in 2000. LOS has approximately 15,000 members, according to the SPLC.
As USA Today reported:
Organizers of the White Lives Matter rallies have said they aimed at protesting refugee resettlement and immigration to Middle Tennessee, specifically noting the presence of Somali and Sudanese people in the region.
Earlier, Gov. Bill Haslam said “these folks” (the white nationalists) were not welcome in the state. Many feared the day would turn violent, as it did in Charlottesville. However, organizers had asked participants to leave guns and other weapons at home. Some photos shared on social media appeared to show police snipers posted atop nearby buildings.
According to The Tennessean, which live–blogged the demonstrations throughout the day, counterprotesters outnumbered the White Lives Matter crowd, with the former totaling about 400 people and the latter about 200 in Shelbyville. Protests there began to dwindle shortly after midday as participants began a caravan to the second location in Murfreesboro. Police in Shelbyville reportedly arrested at least one person.
Meanwhile, in Murfreesboro, 400 counterprotesters gathered at Barfield Crescent Park to wait for the approaching White Lives Matter caravan.
“Murfreesboro, we got your back!” they shouted.
Update, 4:30 p.m.: “White Lives Matter” demonstrators also were significantly outnumbered at the day’s second rally in Murfreesboro, a city of about 130,000. According to The Tennessean, between 500–600 counterprotesters faced off against a couple dozen rally attendees. Organizers eventually called the rally off.
Several people remained, however, mostly on the side of the police line belonging to counterprotesters, and they continued yelling at the dwindling group on the other side. “Stop teaching hate,” they shouted at some demonstrators who had brought their children to the rally.